While gathering flowers and herbs we kept running into Canada Thistle left and right. Canada thistle is an aggressive creeping perennial. This common weed takes hold and spreads like wild fire over vacant lots and grazing pastures. While commonly found as an annoying weed Canada Thistle can be surprisingly useful. This weed is a great wind flower for feeding pollinators from butterflies to bees.
How to Identify Canada Thistle.
Leaves of Canada Thistle are irregularly lobed, developing into triangular indentations with age, with spiny margins. Upper surface of mature leaves is dark green and hairless, while the lower surface is light green in color and may be with or without hairs. Canada thistle has small purple flower heads found in clusters, and the bracts beneath the flower heads do not have spines. Canada Thistle can grow up to 5 feet tall and spread 3 to 5 feet in diameter.
Uses for Canada Thistle
Canada Thistles as food
Canada Thistles are actually cousins of artichokes, They do not have sepals surrounding the flower-head, but modified leaves called bracts. With an artichoke you can peel each one off and dip in butter eating the tender base but thistles are too small to do this with.
Canada thistle leaves are a tasty edible leafy green packed with nutrition. The sharp spines can make them unappealing but are easy to deal with. Rolling leaves will break the spines for eating fresh. If you prefer to cook your greens boiling will destroy the spines. Young shoots can be peeled and eaten raw. Add to green smoothies for a great boost of nutrition.
Medical Uses for Canada Thistle.
Native Americans found many medicinal uses for Canada Thistle. These include Cancer treatment, hemorrhagic hemorrhoids, vomiting, stomach cramps, and tonic for bowels. Canada Thistle can be used to coagulate milk and has been used by Mohegan Indians as a mouth wash for infants and as an ingredient in a tuberculosis ready for adults.
Growing Canada Thistle
Most people choose to not grow this plant. This perennial grows from seed and will both spread and come back up by its roots. Tilling the roots into the soil will only spread Canada Thistle categorizing it as an invasive spices. If you choose to grow Canada Thistles you will need to be careful to control them. Male and female flowers grow on separate plants. This plant is better for foraging unless you have a true love of the tender leaves.
Controlling and getting rid of Canada thistle
If you find yourself with Canada Thistle taking over your garden you will want to deal with them promptly before they can spread. To clear these from your home garden it is best to pull removing the entire root to keep them from growing back. Leaving even a small root in the ground can allow this plant to keep coming back. Vinegar can help kill it off but yet again the roots remain in the ground and it will grow back.
For large pastures grazing can both help clear these out as well and help them spread. A great way to control this in large pastures is with a controlled burn in the spring when they start to pop up.